While a team of curators begins to finalize their installation plans and conservators prepare to examine works of art arriving from around the world, another group of individuals at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
is also gearing up for Cézanne and Beyond, the major international loan exhibition opening February 26, 2009. These weekend and weekday Museum guides have already logged countless hours of research as they prepare to guide visitors through the exhibition — visitors they hope will leave feeling enlightened and inspired.
“Our guides in essence hold the keys both to our fine collection and to special exhibitions like this one,” said Joseph J. Rishel, the Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900 who organized Cézanne and Beyond. “They help us tell visitors exactly why the works we exhibit are so significant, and some of the symbols and stories behind them. It’s hard to imagine a great exhibition without our beloved guides. They are great communicators.”
To date, some 80 guides have signed on to lead tours through the landmark exhibition.
The guides are working closely with Rishel as they prepare to introduce visitors to the powerful works of Cézanne and the generations of successors he inspired. Museum visitors come from around the corner and around the world. Tour groups also scheduled to visit from The Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, N.J., the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, the Bucknell Club of Philadelphia, the Glassboro (N.J.) Senior Citizens Center and adult education classes, Main Line School Night, among others. Each group will be led through the exhibition by a well-versed and dedicated guide.
The weekday guides are attending six, three-hour study sessions, which started in December, to prepare for their presentations. “Our study sessions are so useful that we often see Museum staff members standing in the back, listening and learning along with us,” said Jean Kiernan of Doylestown, Pa., weekday guide coordinator for Cézanne and Beyond.
Some of the weekday guides are writing papers about the paintings, and have been working at home and in libraries since early September. Gladys Cohen of Devon, Pa., drove to Lancaster’s Demuth Foundation in pursuit of additional research on Charles Demuth (1883-1935), an extraordinary Pennsylvania artist who was much inspired by Cézanne and is represented in the exhibition. “I discovered that Demuth was very familiar with Cézanne’s watercolors and very much inspired by the transparency and freshness of his colors—both artists leave a lot of white on the page and then work into it,” she said. “Demuth was also very impressed by the architecture of Cézanne’s work, and strove to imitate his precision.”
Cohen and the other weekday guides will share their research and learn from each other's findings. The weekend guides are taking a comparative approach, exploring the creative dialogue between works by Cézanne and the 18 other artists in the exhibition. “What I’ve found astounding about Cézanne’s art is that a century after his death, it continues to resonate with today’s artists as well as the public,” said Emma Keene, a Cézanne and Beyond weekend guide coordinator from Washington Crossing, Pa. “Even more surprising, it was not until the end of his life that the art world began to acknowledge his genius.”
Once training is complete, Rishel will walk the guides through the exhibition, and all 80 guides will be ready to lead public tours through Cézanne and Beyond.